Power and Distribution of the Authority

Power is the ability to exert influence on other people. Power can be present in any relationship. In organizations, managers exert power. After all, we define management as the process of shaping – that is, influencing – what people do at organizations.

Still managers are not the only people who can exert influence at organizations. Employees say and do things to influence managers. And, as we saw in, there are many kinds of stakeholders outside the organization that can influence managers and employees. So any organization – like any relationship – is an open system when it comes to power. At Nordstrom associates and their mangers exert influence on each other, and associates take very seriously the influence exerted by customers. In fact, the extent to which managers give power to associates and customers is a distinctive feature of Nordstrom as an organization.

The sources of Power:

Power does not derive simply from an individual’s level in the organizational hierarchy. John French and Bertram Raven have identified five sources or bases of power. These aspects of power may be present in a variety of human relationships. In an organization, each may occur at all levels.

Reward power is based on one person (the influencer) having the ability to reward another person (the influencee) for carrying out orders or meeting performance requirements. On example is the power of a supervisor to assign work tasks to employees.

Coercive power based on the influencer’s ability to punish the influences for not meeting requirements is the negative side of reward power. Punishment may range from a reprimand to loss of a job.

Legitimate power (formal authority) exists when an employee or lnfluencee acknowledges that the influencer is entitled to exert influence within certain bounds. It is also implied that the influencee has a obligation to accept this power. The right of a manager to establish reasonable work schedules is an example of ‘downward’ legitimate power. A plant guard may have the ‘upward’ authority to require even the company president to present an identification card before being allowed onto the premises.

Expert power is based on the perception or belief that the influencer has some relevant expertise or special knowledge that the influencee does not. When we do what our doctors tell us, we are acknowledging their expert power.

Authority is a form of power. Specifically formal authority is legitimate power. But we often use the term more broadly in speaking of other kinds of power as well. When we say that someone is ‘an authority’ in a certain field, we mean that he or she knows a great deal about the subject and thus has expert power. When we hear that a suspected criminal has been apprehended by ‘the authorities’ we think of those holding the legitimate power of the government to maintain civil order. If the criminal is convicted, the judge has the ‘authority’ or coercive power to mete out punishment.

Formal authority is the type of power that we associate with organizational structure and management. It is based on the recognition of the legitimacy of managers’ attempts to exert influence. Individuals or groups attempting to exert influence are perceived as having the right to do so within recognized boundaries. This is a right that arises from their formal position in an organization. The basis for formal authority has been a continuing subject for debate in American society. And it should be scrutinized in view of what could go wrong with the use of authority.

The basis of formal Authority: Two views

What gives you the right to tell me what to do? This familiar blunt question implies that before we comply with an instruction we must be satisfied that the person issuing it has the right to do so. Where do managers get the right to direct employees’ activities? There are two major competing views on formal authority in organizations: a classical view and the acceptance view.

The classical View

1. Constitution guarantees right to own property and control business
2. Managers issues commands
3. Commands obeyed

The Acceptance View

1. Managers issues commands
2. Recipient considers acceptance
3. Acceptance/Noncompliance